U.S. Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Meets in Baltimore

WASHINGTON -— Delegates of the National Council of Synagogues and the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs met at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, December 11.  They issued this communique following the meeting:

Delegates of The National Council of Synagogues and The U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs met on December 11, 2003, at St. Marys Seminary and University in Baltimore, MD.  Topics discussed ranged from our respective historical and theological understandings of Martyrdom to our mutual concern for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Although we have different perspectives on the specifics, we commend The National Interreligious Leadership Delegation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders which met in Washington on December 2 to announce its historic initiative urging the greater involvement of the United States in forging a just and secure peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the mobilization of its own constituencies in educational and social activities to this end.

For the past several years our committee has discussed questions regarding the role of the media in shaping public opinion concerning religious and moral issues in this country, a discussion intensified by the growing influence of videos, DVDs and the Internet.  While there are websites dedicated to improving Jewish-Christian relations, we note with concern and join in condemning the creation of many hate sites that propagate anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism.

One of the outcomes of these discussions is the issuance, which we are pleased to announce together today, of a video series we have sponsored entitled Walking Gods Paths  Christians and Jews in Candid Conversation. . It is our fervent hope that this series will not only help to correct misinformation and dispel stereotypes that have for so long poisoned Christian-Jewish relations, but will also enrich the religious lives and self-understanding of Jews and Christians alike. An online users guide can be found on the website of Boston Colleges Center for Christian-Jewish Learning (www.bc.edu/wgp).  We are grateful to the Center for its outstanding work on this project.

Another ongoing concern of our consultation, indeed of all Catholic-Jewish relations since the Second Vatican Council, has been the fostering of a proper understanding of Church teaching on the meaning of Jesus death for Christians. The Passion narratives of the Gospels, the Council declared, must not be presented in a way that brands all Jews of the time of Jesus or of subsequent ages guilty of the death of Jesus.  For many centuries, the charge of deicide served as a toxic agent deforming Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.

Beginning in the Middle Ages, passion plays, by blaming the Jews, often oversimplified and distorted the complex historical realities of the first century and obscured a central teaching of the Christian faith that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, as has been affirmed by Ecumenical Councils of the Church over the centuries. Contemporary historical research indicates that Jesus died was executed through collaboration between the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, and the Roman-dominated high priesthood of Jerusalem.

For the Lenten season of 2004, the Catholic co-chair, Cardinal Keeler announced to us at the meeting, the BCEIA will publish a collection of official Catholic documents from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Pope John Paul II, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, such as the 1988 Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion.  These documents make it clear that there must be, in the words of the 1974 Vatican Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate no. 4, the Second Vatican Councils declaration on the Jews, an overriding preoccupation on the part of Catholic preachers and teachers to avoid representations of the life and death of Jesus that might give rise to anti-Jewish sentiments.

The Jewish delegation welcomes this new publication and pledges, in turn, to cooperate in joint parish-synagogue dialogues around the country to inform both Jewish and Catholic congregations of its significant and healing contents.

Also raised at the meeting was the ominous rise of antisemitism in Europe, the U.S., and in some sectors of the Arab and Muslim worlds, a phenomenon which makes it even more imperative to implement these teachings and guidelines.

This is a vital teaching moment. The forthcoming Catholic resource book and our new video series, together with other efforts such as the Union for Reform Judaisms Open Doors, Open Minds, will be valuable tools, we believe, in the campaign to stamp out once and for all misunderstandings that have for too long poisoned Jewish-Christian relations, and to replace them with more honest, mutual respect between our two ancient communities of faith. We fervently hope and pray that our efforts in producing Walking Gods Paths  Christians and Jews in Candid Conversation will bear fruits of respect, understanding and love in the coming years.